There are very few books that I linger over so I can hold onto them, and savor every word. Louise Penny's mysteries are always that satisfying, and her latest, The Cruelest Month, is no exception.
The third book in Penny's Inspector Armand Gamache series takes the reader and Gamache back to Three Pines, a small village in Quebec. This time, the setting is springtime, beginning with Good Friday. It seems to be an enchanted time of Easter egg hunts, flowers and eggs hatching, until a psychic comes to town, and a séance is planned. The local poet gives a word of warning, a foreshadowing that hangs over the entire book. "Not everything that rises up is a miracle. Not everything that comes back to life is meant to." And, when the first séance fails, and the next one is moved to the old Hadley house, a scene of kidnapping and murder, the foreboding sense grows worse.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of the homicide team, returns to Three Pines, and the scene of previous violence, when a woman dies at the Hadley house. He needs to answer the question, "Is it possible to be scared to death?" Once again, he must probe into the lives of the villagers, questioning and listening carefully, to uncover treachery and betrayal. And, once again, he's forced to confront his own past, a case that once tore the Sûreté, the police force, apart. He finds his own story running parallel with his investigation, another story of deception, treachery and betrayal.
Louise Penny is a master storyteller. Three Pines is a living village, a warm, peaceful place despite the emotions that occasionally disrupt it, tearing it apart. Anyone would want to hang out at the bistro or the local bookstore. Penny's characters come to life as people the reader would like to know - Gamache, the artist, Clara Morrow, and the poet, Ruth Zardo. There's humor, love, and betrayal, in every one of Penny's mysteries. Readers of traditional mysteries will relish the return of familiar characters, and the charming village. Despite the setting and characters, though, these books are serious studies of human behavior, with all the petty jealousies, longings and emotions. In each book, Penny skillfully weaves Gamache's career storyline into the story of murders in Three Pines.
The Cruelest Month, although not the last book in the series, brings Gamache back to Three Pines at a time of crisis in his own career. She starts at Three Pines with a story that takes the villagers to the old Hadley house for a scene that builds emotional tension. And, Gamache returns to the house for an intense scene that affects his entire career. If you haven't yet read any of Penny's award-winning mysteries, you're missing the works of a master.
Louise Penny's website is www.louisepenny.com. And, don't miss her blog. Her blog is as beautifully written as her mysteries.
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2007. ISBN 978-0-312-35257-8 (hardcover), 320p.